Admittedly I don’t have irrefutable proof on this and it hasn’t received international fanfare, but somehow Andrea Regier has managed to solve the age-old conundrum of how one finds more than 24 hours in a day.
Based on a conversation with the Saskatoon teacher, who recently received one of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence, it’s the only possible explanation for how she can manage to squeeze as much into a day as she does.
Perhaps it’s her physics background that helps her work this out, but then how do you explain the enthusiastic, if measured, demeanour? That part might be due to her lifelong passion for music and the sense of Zen that might play in all this.
The only reasonable deduction would seem to be the sense of fusion Regier derives from her shared passions of science and music, coupled with her rich sense of imagination. Try as I might, this is not like any science teacher that I remember from back in the day.
Consider, for example, the brief descriptor that followed her award from the Government of Canada.
“With flowers in their teeth and Argentine music in the air, Andrea Regier’s students dance the Transcription and Translation Tango as they plot out the steps of protein production in the cell.”
The soft-spoken, yet uncompromising, Regier mentions that her music background dates back to four years of age and continued throughout her formative years. She competed in countless piano competitions, which was par for the course in her family that included five siblings.
So while the pragmatic side of her persona meant she never entertained the idea of music as a career due to the uncertainty and lack of security, it has never left her. In fact, it has been a natural extension to try to soften her classes with carefully chosen musical accompaniment (she teaches grade 9-12 physics and science).
“When you come into my classroom I might be playing Aretha Franklin’s Respect if we’re talking about reproduction or if it’s photosynthesis, maybe it’s Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles,” Regier explained as if that would be the norm.
Clearly this takes some planning on her part, so where do the ideas usually germinate?
“Sometimes when I’m running, but after a few years you start to just know how they fit. I’ve always been pretty good at remembering lyrics and they stick in my head. Music can make science more fun and engaging for the students.”
While she’s running you say? You’re starting to see a pattern here regarding the 24 hours, right? When Regier says her plate is full, there’s more to come.
At the absolute heart of what she does, aside from family, is her love of teaching. Initially she had been accepted into dentistry and completed a year, but knew that wasn’t her destiny.
“I’ve never looked back because this is really what I love doing, and I knew I would. You get to see the kids get excited and be inspired when they get a concept. That’s extremely gratifying and fulfilling, and I just think about my day and I have everything I need. Even if you might be tired sometimes, it doesn’t feel like work and it’s never drudgery. Just the energy you get from the students and doing it together is tremendous.”
She’s been teaching for the past 15 years despite her youthful appearance: 12 years at St. Joseph High School and the last three at Bishop James Mahoney of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.
Regier’s approach is all about engaging the students, a trait which she attributes largely to the influences she’s had. None more so than her first-year physics professor Brian Zulkoskey at the University of Saskatchewan.
“He showed me how influential a teacher can be in steering a student’s career path. He also showed me the relevance of science and how it connected to the real world. He was so incredibly well organized. That’s how
I try to work because I want to help my students understand the world around them and science can do that in so many ways.
“Physics gets a bad rap, but that is so much owed to the way it is presented. When students start to realize the relevance, it really draws them in and they learn to appreciate it. That’s always the goal for me. You have the students who tell you that science isn’t their thing. But if you can reach them, they come to a deeper appreciation, and hopefully they do better and get closer to reaching their potential.”
Due probably in large part to her background in the arts through music is how Regier views teaching.
“Good teaching is an art form. It’s about the process, and when you look at a story you’re trying to share and draw them in, and so to have a plan and to show them that path is paramount.”
Feedback from the students is a critical component for Regier, which is why she asks students for a weekly list in which they talk about what they are proud of, what they would like to improve, and then significantly, what they want their teacher to do differently.
“I definitely look at that list and we talk about it. It shapes my teaching. I don’t want to be on cruise control. I encourage my students to be honest in all that we do.”
Regier is well aware this can be difficult for some teachers, while adding that “it helps everyone in the end. But you have to be willing to incorporate what you hear into your teaching strategy. It’s part of how I approach teaching, and I have more ideas than time to do them all,” she chuckled.
So by now you’re probably ready for the next part: Regier is also a committed environmentalist. She has established a school-wide composting program and reclaimed the school’s existing greenhouse project, as well as having partnered with local businesses and organizations to create a water collection system. Earlier, she spearheaded a project at St. Joseph’s that focused on studying the native grasslands and vegetation around the school.
As one who always values connection, this is an example of how Regier is looking for ways to incorporate First Nations education, as it has a rich heritage of respect for the land and environment. This makes it a natural fit for environmental and health studies.
“There is a lot of value in what First Nations culture and history can bring. It’s about building relationships and learning to trust. They have the opportunity to shine because they don’t always feel that connected, but what they bring can enrich everyone.”
Here’s another innovative connection that Regier is excited about–the perhaps seemingly unlikely confluence of the synchrotron at the Canadian Light Source with traditional Aboriginal teachings. She certainly knows a thing or two about the synchrotron, since hers was the first class to ever have access to the facility and its beamlines.
Regier has submitted a proposal to the synchrotron folks to further cement this relationship for next year, and she sees great potential for forming new relationships between traditional and New Age scientific research.
Oh by the way, her husband Tom is a physicist who is employed there. He also plays in a bluegrass band and is a marathon runner–just to confirm that both partners are ubiquitously busy in their lives quite aside from raising three young children, Lucy, Ivan and Alice, whom range from nine to four years of age.
Yes, she and her husband talk science at home too. “I don’t know that much about the beamline, but he doesn’t know all that much about biology either,” Regier joked.
“I get asked a lot what’s next,” Regier said somewhat playfully, before excitedly divulging her future role as the head of a health and sciences academy that will be ushered in at Bishop James Mahoney High School in the fall, which she said she’s been integrally involved in planning for the past two years. As an academic academy, it will be the first of its kind and will include numerous partners such as the College of Nursing, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and The Lighthouse Supported Living. The academy will also provide students with post-secondary credits. This will be originally for grade 9 and 10 students and will include students from across the city.
So if you’re keeping score, you probably are wondering how all this fits into one day. “The neat part of my passions is that I also love good food and gardening. I’m always canning and preserving at night which I love doing and then a lot of times I come up with ideas that I can use in class that connects in terms of where the foods come from, so I can do more than one thing at a time that way. You find out what you’re best at when you do a lot of different things, and I was born with that idea–that I like to do a lot things.”